By: Will Burchfield
It has been a painful, wearisome and altogether strange 10 months for Cyrus Kouandjio.
He arrived in Detroit on Thursday with a chance to put it all behind him.
“I think it goes right in line with how we’ve always done and what I’ve always believed,” said Jim Caldwell. “Everybody certainly should have an opportunity to have a second chance.”
The Lions signed Kouandjio on Thursday in their ongoing search for a new left tackle. They also struck a trade with the Rams for former second-overall pick Greg Robinson. Both newcomers will vie to take the place of Taylor Decker, who could be sidelined until December with a torn labrum.
“Good athletes that have ability and they’ve played a bit in the League. We’re happy to have them,” said Caldwell. “Both guys give us an opportunity to get better and that’s the key.”
Kouandjio entered the NFL in 2014 as the Bills second-round draft pick, 44th overall. He played sparingly over his first two seasons. He began to make strides in 2016 and earned the starting job at left tackle in Week 2 in place of the sidelined Cordy Glenn. But Kouandjio injured his ankle in Week 4, was sidelined through Week 6, and found himself out of the starting lineup upon his return.
Then things really went south.
In January, he suffered a fall in his home and was forced to undergo hip surgery. Three months later he was involved in a bizarre incident in which police found him wandering in a farm field after abandoning his car on a highway outside Buffalo.
Per the Buffalo News, “Kouandjio was found in a T-shirt without pants, but wearing underwear, wandering in a field after climbing over an electric fence, authorities said. When an Erie County Sheriff’s deputy went to detain him, a police source said that the 6-foot-7, 322-pound Kouandjio yelled, ‘Shoot me!'”
A later report disputed the claim that Kouandjio said, “Shoot me!” He was “compliant, courteous and polite,” according to the report.
The Bills released Kouandijo about a month later.
Asked on Thursday what he told the Lions about the incident before they signed him, Kouandjio said, “We just knew that a few things were blown out of proportion. We just kept it in the past.”
Said Caldwell, “I’m not going to go into details about it. I think you’ve read enough about it and done your research on it and those kinds of things. Some of the information, obviously, has been inaccurate.”
“No one’s perfect,” he went on, “but I think those things are behind him. Just like the situation you’re talking about with Greg (Robinson) and same thing with Cyrus, we’re looking forward. We’re not worried about what happened in the past at this point.”
Robinson’s troubles have been far more common, if no less disappointing. The Rams drafted him second overall in 2014, with hopes he would be their left tackle for years to come. But Robinson, who didn’t play in a pro-style offense at Auburn, had a rough time making the transition to the NFL. He was plagued by inconsistency and a lack of discipline.
In 2016, when he made 14 starts at left tackle despite being benched in Week 12, Robinson ranked 71st out of 78 qualifying tackles, according to Pro Football Focus.
The Lions aren’t hung up on his struggles thus far in the NFL. They’re hoping they can find something in him the Rams couldn’t.
“I’m not concerned about that. I’m concerned about what he does for us here and now from this point forward. I don’t look back much,” Caldwell said. “For us, we know he’s got ability. He’s very capable and we’re happy to have him. It’s kind of what we look. We’re looking forward rather than backward.”
So is Robinson, who acknowledged his career hasn’t yet met his expectations.
“Hasn’t really went the way I would like, but I think at this point, besides all the negatives, just trying to improve as much as possible,” he said.
He’s excited to have a fresh start.
“I plan on benefitting from it tremendously. I think throughout the course of my career it’s really refreshing, and I plan to make the most out of it,” said Robinson.
No one doubts Robinson’s ability. Not even the Rams. With a 6’5, 330-pound frame and good agility, the 24-year-old is the full package.
Said Rams offensive line coach Paul Boudreau toward the end of last season, via ESPN, “There’s a course of every game where you can make a training film. There are some sets when you’re like, ‘That’s how it’s done.’ If you went and spoke at a clinic, you’d say, ‘This is it.'”
“He doesn’t have a bad game; he has bad plays in games. And it comes in inopportune times,” Boudreau added. “And when you’re a left tackle, you’re exposed.”
Boudreau spoke highly of Robinson’s character and work ethic. Of his talent, Boudreau said, “This kid has ability better than most guys on our team.”
The question for the Lions will be how to harness that ability.
“Everybody is a little different, asked to do different things in different systems and things of that nature. We think he fits well with us and we’ll see. He’s the kind of guy we’re looking for and he’ll work at it,” said Caldwell.
Former NFL guard Geoff Schwartz sees a “great fit” between Robinson’s skill set and the Lions’ scheme.
Kouandjio, who graded out fairly well on Pro Football Focus over the past two seasons with the Bills, spoke to the same sense of comfort with his new team.
“I like their offense style,” he said. “Thought there was a lot more opportunity here than other places.”
Asked what the Lions are expecting of him when he hits the field, which should be for the start of training camp, Kouandjio offered one simple word: “Compete.”
Competition breeds improvement, and suddenly there’s a battle for the most important job on the Lions’ offensive line. Joe Dahl, Cornelious Lucas and Corey Robinson will likely have a sword in the fight as well.
“I don’t think there’s any question that the competitiveness of the group is heightened. I think we feel good about it in terms of how we’re shaping up, anyway. I just think it’s going to be a situation where we’re going to improve. Anytime you can get a position that improves a significant amount in this league, one percent, two percent is big in this league. That’s what we’re interested in,” Caldwell said.
Kouandjio and Robinson are trying to resurrect their careers. The Lions are trying to rescue their season. The fit is mutual.
“Every year is very important to us,” said Caldwell. “Every year, I think, is the exact same way in this league. You better try to win and win right now. Try to get yourself in the best possible position to win and always looked at it that way. I think that’s the philosophy of our organization.”